In his first, very short novel, set over the course of one difficult day on a farm in Wales, the Welsh author offsets small barnyard crises with simmering marital tensions.
It’s been a long, hot, dry summer, hence the title. Gareth, the main character, is a middle-aged sheep and dairy farmer who inherited the farm from his father, whose diaries he is reading at night. (Jones uses his grandfather’s tape-recorded memories as source material.) Gareth and his wife, Kate, have a teenage son, Dylan, and a small daughter, Emmy, whose father (we infer) is a farmhand who Kate grabbed in a spasm of lust she has regretted ever since. It was her one lapse, and Gareth doesn’t know. We learn from their interior monologues that Kate is worried about her waning attractiveness and Gareth’s loss of desire for her, while Gareth acknowledges that “his care for her outweighs his want.” Anger ripples through them, though the marriage is secure. Meanwhile, the cows demand their attention. Gareth disposes of a stillborn calf, and a second dead calf has husband and wife yelling at each other; then Gareth goes searching in vain for a missing cow while Kate retreats to her bed with a vicious headache. We don’t see much of Dylan, who’s ready to leave the farm for good, while little Emmy will die, but not today, after eating a poisonous mushroom; this peek into the future is disconcerting and arbitrary. Jones is more successful describing the relationship between humans and animals. There’s a striking scene in which a boy finds the inner strength to put a dying rabbit out of its misery, and Jones’ declarative sentences nail the moment. The day ends, rather too conveniently, with a downpour, and Kate’s new vision of her man: “He is strong and proud and good.” This resolution, though, feels glib and unearned.
A budding talent, Jones has not yet found a way to shape his characters’ struggles into a coherent narrative.